Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Thursday proposed that Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) officials accused of corruption be placed under preventive suspension.
Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, also pushed that institutional reforms are introduced in the organization to protect the integrity of the investigation to be conducted by the Task Force led by the Department of Justice (DoJ).
The lawmakers’ proposal came after the probe initiated by the Senate Committee of the Whole last Tuesday found credence to the charges hurled by the witnesses against several PhilHealth officials.
“We see it as a problem that our investigative bodies could not move well as long as the suspects are in power,” Go said. “A preventive suspension should be slapped against them.”
He also questioned PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales’ willingness to assist the Task Force’s investigation even as the chief health insurer later vowed cooperation with the probers.
Last year, Go had asked the Commission on Audit (CoA) to conduct a special audit on the PhilHealth funds and submit its findings to the Office of the Ombudsman.
The CoA later reported that the health lockdown measures had prevented agency probers from accessing the PhilHealth files.
The Senator also asked the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) to confirm findings that the agency’s “ineffective” legal sector had bolstered the spread of fraudulent activities.
PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said bureaucratic red tape is creating opportunities for corruption within the agency.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, disclosed that the DoJ has set a hybrid meeting on Friday to start digging into the PhilHealth mess.
This, he said, is in consonance with the memorandum of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Hybrid meeting. Face-to-face for those who can go to the DoJ, the rest via Zoom,” Guevarra said.
The justice chief said the DoJ team met last Monday to discuss organizational matters and the operational strategy for Task Force PhilHealth.
“We have scheduled a conference with the other members of the task force on Friday afternoon. We are presently inviting resource persons to give us a briefing on alleged irregularities at PhilHealth, so that we may clearly identify and prioritize the work to be done,” Guevarra stated.
Aside from the DoJ and PACC, other members of the Task Force are representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman, CoA, Civil Service Commission, the Office of the Executive Secretary and the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.
In a related development, the House Committee on Public Accounts ordered Morales and two other agency officials to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for prematurely stepping out of the House probe on the alleged corruption in the agency.
Morales, Senior Vice President Rodolfo del Rosario Jr. and Executive Vice president Arnel de Jesus who all attended the hearing of the panel via Zoom left the meeting citing health reasons. They did not notify the lawmakers, though.
with Alvin Murcia and Francis T. Wakefield